Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Martin Peerson, Lapsed Recusant Composer

I just stumbled upon a recording of Latin Motets by this English composer, Martin Peerson (1590?–1651?)--and just in time too as Hyperion indicates there are few copies of the CD left--who was convicted of recusancy in 1606, but seems to have at least outwardly conformed to the Church of England. 

One of his patrons was Fulke Greville, First Baron Brooke, a firm Calvinist, poet, statesman, and biographer of Sir Philip Sidney. Greville died horribly of infection after being stabbed by a servant: his doctors stuffed his wounds with pig fat which turned rancid!

Peerson (or Pearson or Pierson) may have been convicted of recusancy because of his connection to Ben Jonson, according to the CD liner notes:

Martin Peerson (c1572–1651) was probably born at March, Cambridgeshire, although the little that is known of his life relates to London and its immediate environs. An early connection was with the playwright Ben Jonson, for whose entertainment The Penates, Jonson’s May-Day production for the king and queen at Highgate in 1604, Peerson wrote the madrigal See, O see who is here come a-maying. Two years later Peerson, along with Jonson and others, was apparently convicted of recusancy. If Peerson had Catholic sympathies at that time they probably did not last very long, for he graduated BMus at Oxford (through Lincoln College) in 1613, for which acceptance of the Thirty-nine Articles was a requirement. . . . 

Richard Rastall, who edited the edition of Peerson's works, also judges that merely composing motets based on Catholic liturgical texts does not indicate that the composer was a crypto-Catholic or Church Papist:

The composition of Latin motets does not necessarily imply that Peerson was a Catholic when he wrote them. These motets do not demonstrate the kind of underground protest that we can see in Byrd’s Latin compositions of the 1580s, for instance. Some of the texts can be traced to the pre-Reformation liturgy, but nothing here would have been unacceptable in the services of those Anglican institutions allowed to perform music with Latin texts. They could have been sung in Westminster Abbey, which is a royal peculiar and where, as already noted, Peerson was sacrist from 1623 until 1630. This would place them among Peerson’s late works, which stylistic considerations would suggest in any case.

Yet, he concludes:

If they did nothing else, these works would demonstrate Peerson’s mastery of this aspect of composition, and this is one reason why these pieces are regarded as probably relatively late works. But they show much more than this, and both listener and singer will be struck by the sheer performability of the lines and the dramatic and expressive effects of the texture as a whole. Such passages as his setting of ‘Jesu miserere mei’ near the beginning of No 1 (Deus omnipotens), or the wonderfully luminous passage for ‘neque dormiet qui custodit te’ in No 4 (Levavi oculos meos), show not merely a highly intelligent composer at work, but a human being of immense compassion and religious faith.

Makes it rather sad that we really so little of him--even his grave is gone because of the Fire of London and the destruction of Old St. Paul's--and what his religious convictions really were and what struggles he faced in reconciling them (or not) to the laws of his country and sovereign.

I've listened to the excerpts available at the Hyperion website, and look forward to listening to the entire recording when it arrives. I think it's intriguing that an "Interpretation of Rublev's Icon of the Trinity" (1995) by Sophia Hacker was used as the cover illustration. 

Monday, January 24, 2022

Edward Short on R.W. Southern and Whig History

Edward Short, whose new edition of Newman's Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching I reviewed last year here and here, writes about the English historian of the Middle Ages, R.W. Southern, for the Catholic World Report

Describing a paper Southern delivered in 1988 to the St. John's College Historical Society, “The Truth about the Past”, Short highlights the medievalist's explanation of how history replaced scholastic theology at the University of Oxford as the organizing principle for understanding the truth about the past. Not just the discipline of history, doing research and verifying facts, but the interpretation of the results of that research to explain all the progress of the present: in other words, Whig history:

In reviewing how history was revisited from 1850 onwards in an attempt to fill the void left by the desuetude in which the scholastic tradition fell, Southern charted the failure of secular humanism. Initially, it was thought that the best means of studying history to establish general truths was through a study of institutions, particularly the development of Parliament and common law, and, by extension, the development of constitutional liberty, a development which could act as a useful guide not only to the conduct of life but to the challenges of empire, when the English still had an empire for which proconsuls had to be supplied.

Here, in embryo, was the Whig conception of history, according to which all history culminated in the triumph of Whig constitutionalism, and Southern vividly describes the welcome with which it was received two years after the Revolutions of 1848 rocked European institutions to their foundations. “It came as a huge liberation from a prison of despair to discover that here in our midst there was something like a divine instrument for the enlargement of human life,” Southern writes, “developing through the centuries from the earliest days.” Indeed, for those who had despaired of the general truths of Revelation, it offered nothing less than “a kind of secular embodiment of that force which had in the past been particularly associated with the now derelict pattern of Revelation.”

Consequently, History, not Theology, came to rule the academic roost. The claims made for the redemptive properties of historical study might now seem, as Southern says, “pure moonshine;” but it did not seem so in 1930, when Southern was an undergraduate. “Indeed, history had succeeded beyond all expectation in giving the university that central position in society which it had had in the thirteenth century and had gradually lost in the intervening centuries.” By 1900, one third of all undergraduates were studying history. Fifty years later, historical study had begun to lose and would never regain its fleeting centrality. . . .

Please read the rest there, especially for the explanation of why that the influence of historical study waned after 1950.

In the last part of the essay, Short almost convinces me that I should read R.W. Southern's two volume Scholastic Humanism and the Unification of Europe.


Monday, January 17, 2022

EDI's 2022 Symposium: "Sex and Lies: Delusions of the Self in the 21st Century"

Our Eighth Day Institute 2022 Symposium was a wonderful event, held Friday and Saturday, January 14 and 15 at St. George's Orthodox Cathedral in Wichita, Kansas. Of course there were some glitches--the main one being that Rod Dreher, one of the plenary speakers, could not come to Wichita because he had tested positive for Covid and had lost his voice so he couldn't even participated digitally. All of the speakers spoke to everyone attending because we had no breakout sessions. And the presentations were wonderfully balanced between practical matters of current issues and theological explorations of the true model and how we should imitate Him: Jesus Christ. Thus, the icon for the event: The Pantocrator from Saint Catherine's Monastery.

Carl R. Trueman, from Grove City College in western Pennsylvania, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in DC, and author of The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution among other books offered two presentations, analyzing the cultural changes in the way we identify ourselves. Dr. J (Jennifer Roback Morse) of the Ruth Institute also gave two presentations on the effects of those changes on the family, on fathers and mothers, on children, on schools, etc, etc. While he outlined the situation we face, Dr. J offered tactics, ways of thinking and responding, all at the service of renewing the true doctrine of the family: a man and woman who marry for the sake, not of their appetites and whims, but for the loving stability of a home for children, who know who their parents are, know their identities, and live with both parents, unless a tragedy occurs.

Then Father Alexis Torrance and the Reverend Hans Boersma offered some theological and spiritual foundations--above and beyond the practical steps we have to take to help our culture to return to the reality of humanity, the family, and the common good--upon which to base our efforts. Boersma outlined how Hugh of St. Victor offered his monks a model of lectio divina based on spiritual analogies within the structures of Noah's Ark:

Sex and the Imagination: Focusing the Mind: Delusions of the self—and the sexual problems linked to them—do not just happen. They are caused by a wandering imagination. This talk discusses how the 12th-century spiritual master Hugh of Saint Victor tried to anchor his students’ character: through a mural painting of Noah’s Ark. We will turn to Noah’s Ark in our own 21st-century pursuit of focus and stability.

Here's another version of his presentation.

And the final presentation, by Father Torrance, was based on his 2020 book from Oxford University Press, Human Perfection in Byzantine Theology: Attaining the Fullness of Christ. He offered some insights from four saints based on chapters from that book:

2. Perpetual progress or eternal rest? Contemplating the eschaton in St Maximus the Confessor
3. Perfection before our eyes: St Theodore the Studite on the humanity of Christ
4. I am called by two names, human and divine: dogma and deification in St Symeon the New Theologian
5. The energy of deification and the person of Jesus Christ in St Gregory Palamas

We were disappointed that Rod Dreher could not come and that he was ill. Nonetheless, I though it was a very successful gathering--in part, just because we gathered--in which we confronted issues Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians face in our families, workplaces, churches, and friendships and were reminded and consoled by the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death through His Incarnation and Paschal Sacrifice.

I think the Symposium, of all the events we present at Eighth Day Institute, is the most accessible and important. Ad Fontes--the summer theological week--purposefully emphasizes the differences between and among Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians (our different views of Baptism, Salvation and sin (this summer's topic) and is the more scholarly gathering. The Inklings Festival is a family Oktoberfest event, celebrating Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton, Sayers, et al. It's fun and literary at the same time, which as an English major I appreciate.

The Symposium, though, gives us all a chance to gather and think about our lives as Christians, the challenges we face inside and out, and thus offers renewal so we may do as St. Peter the Apostle advises:

But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:14-16)

I certainly hope that anyone reading this could come to an Eighth Day Symposium some day: perhaps next January?!?

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Happy New Year, 2022: Book Review in the NC Register

Happy New Year! Best wishes for a happy, holy, and healthy 2022! 

I ended the year 2021 and have begun the year 2022 with a head cold, but also with the publication of my review of a new book about Saints John Fisher and Thomas More in the National Catholic Register:

St. Thomas More shares a feast with St. John Fisher on the date of the cardinal-bishop’s death on June 22 (in 1535). Yet, probably because, as author Robert Conrad Jr. says, Fisher’s virtues aren’t celebrated in an award-winning movie like A Man for All Seasons, he has been somewhat eclipsed by More. In John Fisher and Thomas More: Keeping Their Souls While Losing Their Heads, Conrad attempts to redress this injustice in a very personal way, exploring both Fisher’s and More’s responses to Henry VIII’s usurpation of ecclesial authority in England. Throughout the book, Gardner holds both men up as models for us to follow in courage, fidelity, integrity, piety, Christian joy, perseverance and other virtues. Instead of offering a chronological dual biography, he presents a series of 12 vignettes in both men’s lives to demonstrate their practice of these virtues, culminating in their martyrdoms.

In keeping with his effort to highlight St. John Fisher as well St. Thomas More, Conrad begins his series of anecdotes in Chapter 1 on “Conscience” with Bishop John Fisher’s forthright refusal to be coerced into agreeing with the rest of the English bishops in support of Henry VIII’s actions. Conrad highlights the courage of Fisher, not taking the easy way out when the archbishop of Canterbury, William Warham, declared the unanimous agreement of the bishops with Henry VIII at the Legatine Court in 1529: Bishop Fisher denies he signed the document, he denies his signature on the document is authentic, and he denies that he agrees with the document. Neither Warham’s embarrassment nor Henry VIII’s impatience dissuade him. As Conrad concludes, Fisher “spoke with strength to power nonetheless” (p. 16). . . .

Please read the rest there.

Judge Conrad's book demonstrates once again the impact of these saints' lives upon us today. The example of their lives, not just their deaths, inspire us every day. 

Pause to consider that on this day, January 1, 1535 (although they weren't really celebrating the New Year as we are today), 487 years ago, they were imprisoned in the Tower of London, with cold stone walls about them, and yet we know that their thoughts were still about Jesus and the salvation He won for us! Their faith, though tested, was true and they were strong in hope and love.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
(Our outdoor Creche for Christmas 2017/2018)